John the Baptist plows the road for Jesus
- 3:1 John the Baptist launched his ministry by preaching to people in the badlands of Judea. He told people,
- 3:2 “Repent because the Kingdom of Heaven has come, and it’s already near us.
- 3:3 I’m the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said:
‘A voice cries out in the barren land,
Get ready, the LORD is coming.
Plow the road.’”1
- 3:4 John wore clothes made from camel’s hair.2 He tied a leather belt around his waist. For food, he ate locusts3 and wild honey.
- 3:5 People came from all over to hear John. They came from Jerusalem, from Judea’s surrounding countryside, and from the Jordan River Valley.
- 3:6 They confessed their sins and John baptized them in the Jordan River.
- 3:7 But when he caught sight of a big group of Pharisees4 and Sadducees5 coming to get baptized, he tore into them. “You nested knot of poisonous snakes. Who warned you to crawl out of your hole and slither away from the punishment that’s coming?
- 3:8 If you’ve repented of your sins, act like it. Prove it by the way you live.
- 3:9 Don’t say to yourself, ‘We’re going to be okay because we’re children of Abraham.’ I’m telling you, God can turn this bed of stones into children of Abraham.
- 3:10 Right now, there’s an ax lying at the root of the trees. Every worthless tree that does not produce good fruit is going to get chopped down and thrown into the fire.
- 3:11 I baptize you with water once you’ve repented. But the one who’s coming after me is more important than me. I’m not worthy to untie the straps on his sandals. He’ll baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
- 3:12 He’s armed with a pitchfork and he’s going to clean up the mess on the threshing floor, where grain kernels get separated from worthless chaff and stems. He’s going to carry the grain into the barn. But the chaff he’s going to burn in a fire that can’t be put out.”
John baptizes Jesus
- 3:13 Jesus came down from the region of Galilee because he wanted John to baptize him in the Jordan River.
- 3:14 John didn’t want to do it, so he tried to talk Jesus out of it. John said, “You need to baptize me, and yet here you are asking me to baptize you?”
- 3:15 Jesus answered, “Let’s do this now. It’s the right thing. We need to do everything God wants us to do.”6 Eventually, John agreed to baptize Jesus.
- 3:16 As Jesus was being baptized, and coming up out of the water, the sky opened. Jesus saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove landing on him.
- 3:17 A voice from the sky said, “This is my Son. I dearly love him. He’s my Delight.”
Hair on the outside of a camel is course and stiff, but it can be woven into threads. Hair underneath this “guard hair” is shorter, softer, and more insulating. People can also weave this “undercoat” into thread, often blending it with other fabrics such as wool. Fashion designers today sometimes use camel hair in their clothing.
Locusts John ate were probably migratory grasshoppers with wings. They hatch in the Arabian deserts, where there were few predators to eat them. Desert windstorms blow them west into what is now Israel, Egypt, and beyond. Locusts remain a problem even in modern times, in spite of insecticides and strategies for killing them.
Pharisees were one of several groups of Jews. The situation was a bit like Methodists being one of many groups of Christians. Pharisees were known for not only strictly keeping the laws of Moses, but also for keeping hundreds of other laws that were a bit like the rules in church manuals today. For example, Jewish law said Jews should not work on the Sabbath. Pharisees defined what they considered work. Pharisees taught that healing people on the Sabbath was practicing medicine. They said this was forbidden except when someone was at risk of dying that day.
Sadducees “were Jews who taught there was no such thing as a resurrection” (Luke 20:27). That’s why they were sad you see.
The phrase is more literally, “It’s fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” One definition of “righteousness” is simply “obedience to God.”
The Bible never tells us why John the Baptist didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest in the Jerusalem Temple. He would have had a comfortable life then. But he chose the lonely life of an isolationist, self-sacrificing prophet who lived in the Judean badlands. We can only guess why he did this. What would you guess?
John the Baptist quotes Isaiah, a prophet who lived 700 years before the time of Jesus, and he applies the quotation to himself. “I’m the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about” (3:3). Old Testament experts say the section of Isaiah that Matthew quoted was written for Jews exiled in Babylon, in what is now Iraq. That is why the chapter begins with “Comfort, comfort my people…Clear the way…for the LORD” (Isaiah 40:1 New Living Translation). Do you think Isaiah had any idea that someone would take his words out of context and apply them to someone else centuries later? And why do you think John the Baptist did this?
It’s rare that Bible writers describe a person’s fashion sense and eating habits. Matthew reports this about John the Baptizer. “John wore clothes made from camel’s hair. He tied a leather belt around his waist. For food, he ate locusts and wild honey.” (3:4). Why do you think Matthew reported this?
John’s idea of baptizing people seems to come from out of nowhere. Perhaps the closest thing to that are the Jewish cleansing rituals that required people to take a bath to purify themselves before they went to worship at the Temple. These baths washed away impurities caused by such things as menstruation, bleeding after childbirth, or touching a corpse. Do you think baptism is anything like that—a ritual that washes away our impurities?
Calling the top religious leaders a “nested knot of poisonous snakes” (3:7) seems a bit much. What do you think John the Baptist was trying to do with that?
John told the people, “I baptize you with water…he’ll baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (3:11). Some students of the Bible say this suggests that once the Holy Spirit comes, we don’t need to get baptized with water anymore. How do you react to that?
Matthew says that when Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit of God coming down like a dove landing on him” (3:16). The footnote to Mark’s report of this event (Mark 1:10) suggests that Jesus saw a vision of the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. But the Gospel of Luke says “The Holy Spirit came down in physical form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22). There’s no indication that either writer had ever met Jesus. Both seem to have collected their information about Jesus from various sources. Matthew, however, was a disciple of Jesus, and early church leaders said he wrote this anonymously written Gospel. How do you react to the apparent inconsistency in the reports?
After Jesus was baptized, Matthew says a voice from the sky said, “This is my Son. I dearly love him. He’s my Delight” (3:17). Luke 3:22 reports a similar quote. But one ancient manuscript adds to Luke’s quote, “Today I have begotten you.” Some Bible experts say that this addition suggests that on the day Jesus was baptized, God adopted Jesus as his. A Christian group known as Ebionites taught this idea early in the Christian movement. How do you react to the fact that this phrase shows up in an ancient copy of the Gospel of Luke?
LIFE APPLICATION. Why do you think some Christians get baptized and some don’t?